Sam Raimi's Spider-Man had an amusing reference to Shazam! all the way back in 2002. Moviegoers are about to meet Shazam! for the first time, but the character has a rich history in comics that runs back all the way to 1940, when he first appeared in Fawcett Comics' Whiz Comics #2. Based on comic book sales, the character - who was originally called Captain Marvel until Marvel Comics secured the trademark to that name - was the most popular superhero of the 1940s, outselling even Superman.
Given Shazam!'s place in history, it's frankly surprising that it's taken so long for him to make his big-screen debut. Directed by David F. Sandberg and loosely set in the DC Extended Universe, Shazam! will tell the story of Asher Angel's Billy Batson, a teenager who stumbles upon an ancient wizard and is granted the power to transform into a superhero. It's received strong reviews from critics, officially certified fresh on the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.
Amusingly, though, Shazam! has been referenced before in a superhero movie: Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, all the way back in 2002. In one key scene, Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker has just learned he has super-powers, and is attempting to work out how he produces webs. He stands on a rooftop and tries everything from hand gestures to verbal commands. The scene is absolutely packed with references to other comic book characters and even earlier animated versions of Spider-Man. One of Peter's attempts involving him yelling up at the sky, "Shazam!" Needless to say, there's no flash of lightning in Spider-Man.
Superhero films are now typically Hollywood blockbusters - Aquaman broke $1 billion in the global box office, and Captain Marvel is about to do the same - but back in 2002 studios still considered them to be something of a gamble. The X-Men and Spider-Man films were at the beginning of a new wave of superhero movies, and it's so very appropriate for Raimi to put in a nod to the most popular superhero of the 1940s. There is actually another DC Comics reference as well, with Peter also calling out "Up, up and away," a catchphrase associated with Superman.
Oddly enough, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy also acknowledged the existence of other Marvel heroes, foreshadowing the MCU. In one scene in Spider-Man 2, J. Jonah Jameson was trying to think of a catchy name for Doctor Octopus, and one of his staff suggested Doctor Strange. "That's pretty good," J. Jonah Jameson responded, before adding, "But it's taken!" The production also came close to name-dropping Iron Man as well, considering the idea that Doctor Octopus' mechanical arms had been constructed by Stark Industries.